Literary Lens: “Girl in a Band”

Courtesy of fabersocialUK.
Abbie discusses Kim Gordon’s memoir, “Girl in a Band.”


Kim Gordon is the quintessential cool girl.

In addition to being the bassist for Sonic Youth, Gordon owes much of her alt-cult allure to her reticence—she is so aloof, so careful with sharing her persona, that something about her feels unknowable. This is what makes “Girl in a Band” an exciting release, especially for fans: people love the chance to deconstruct their heroines.

Yet, Gordon remains an enigma. Though her memoir gives interesting perspectives on her career and personal life, it is not fully immersive.

Reading through, one gets the sense that Gordon is still—after all these years—trying to navigate her role as a public figure. She addresses her emotional barriers, but cannot, or will not, let them down the whole way.

This is not to say Gordon is completely withholding. She opens her book with “The End,” a chapter devoted to chronicling the dissolve of her marriage and band.

Ahead of the memoir’s release, details of her high-profile divorce from Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore was a particular selling point. With signature directness, she is open about her feelings of separation—the hurt, confusion, anger and sadness she experienced while sharing a physical stage with her husband, but existing without him in every other way.

“The couple everyone believed was golden and normal and eternally intact, who gave younger musicians hope they could outlast a crazy rock-and-roll world, was now just another cliché of middle-aged relationship failure,” she writes.

Gordon’s treatment of Moore is consistently diplomatic—though he caused her pain, she never stoops to malign him. Instead, she respects him, but will not spare him from the truth as she sees it.

Though Moore is an integral part of Gordon’s story, she avoids placing their relationship on a narrative pedestal. She ruminates on their life together, yet Moore’s role is surprisingly ancillary.

This is fitting for someone so self-possessed. A Los Angeles girl coated in New York grit, Gordon became successful through art-star talent and an abundance of pragmatism, the latter reflecting itself in her prose.

“I was allergic to making scenes and did everything possible to maintain an identity as an individual within the band,” she says. “I had no interest in being just the female half of a couple.”

But this matter-of-factness is a drawback when discussing her time with Sonic Youth. Gordon faces an understandable challenge: her band’s two-decade-plus history, rife with genre, label and personnel changes, could easily dominate her book.

Instead, she gives us the bare minimum, tackling the group’s history album-by-album. Gordon dissects lyrics and recording sessions, but does little to place the albums in context—she does not discuss band dynamics, nor her own headspace during each era.

Though not quite a literary masterstroke, this memoir hooks you with realness. As fans, we get to witness Gordon work through the question she’ll always receive, time and time again:

“What’s it like to be a girl in a band?”

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